The ‘Customer Experience’ will continue to gain momentum as an overarching retail trend in 2019. To lure and retain shoppers, retailers will need to further develop the customer-first mindset.
Tied to the growing emphasis on the customer experience are three key retail trends: personalization; conversational AI; and data management.
As retailers proactively respond to these trends, a good motto to use as a guide might be “The customer is always in sight.” They’ll need to develop and implement strategies geared to the unique, ever-changing needs and wants of their customers. And it will be a bit of a balancing act. These strategies will need to be customized yet flexible, efficient yet personal, data-driven yet secure.
For retailers up for the challenge, 2019 will be exciting indeed!
The customer of today doesn’t just set out to buy products. They are seeking omnichannel offerings and shopping experiences that are personalized. They want to feel informed, supported, connected and, to varying degrees, entertained. And though they still want convenience, it’s no longer just about speed; efficiency is becoming more about respecting the customer’s time by making every connection with the customer count.
From subscription-based services that are fully customized to a customer’s interests, to community involvement and shared values, retailers will need to devise informed strategies to show customers that they know them, and cater to them personally in the channel of their choosing (phones, social platforms, tablets, interactive kiosks, etc.) This new reality requires a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to ‘shop’ versus what it means to ‘buy’.
Personalization was key in Watt’s work with Mexican department store Coppel, a retailer that takes its brand promise – “Bringing our customers a world of possibilities to improve their lives” – to heart in everything they do. Not only was their new store concept design built to showcase lifestyle solutions for shoppers of all types, Coppel is a good corporate citizen actively involved in the communities they serve. Whether it’s offering draws for a free home renovation or rebuilding schools, Coppel’s relationship with its customers begins in-store but extends outward into their communities as a way to keep the brand personal, relevant, and connected to their shoppers at all times.
Another trend getting a lot of buzz is Conversational AI. Artificial Intelligence technology has advanced to a point where, when used appropriately, it can greatly enhance a retailer’s relationship with their audience. Shoppers want to connect with a retailer directly at any point in time and with minimum effort. From direct messaging apps to Amazon’s Alexa for business, the ability of employees to efficiently support customers’ needs is taken for granted by digital natives and, slowly but surely, by older generations of shoppers.
Still, it is important for retailers to remember that automation is a tool and cannot replace human interaction. The key is balance and purpose. AI should augment the customer experience. Younger shoppers especially are used to human-free interaction, and welcome it when appropriate. But when human interaction is what is needed, that is what they value.
Finally, as the number of communication channels and automated interactions increases, so too does the amount of data being collected. Customers want personalization, and they are becoming increasingly comfortable with companies collecting data in order to tailor their offerings in ways the customers want and expect.
Retailers can now shift away from looking through the rear-view mirror at past customer transactions, and instead peer into the future and predict what their customers’ path-to-purchase will look like.
A great example is the recent strategic alliance between Kroger and Microsoft. By deploying data-rich technology and AI to provide the personalized experiences their customers desire, Kroger is consolidating its place as an innovator when it comes to listening to shoppers and making their path-to-purchase as convenient and pleasurable as possible.
Customers do want retailers to collect data and use it for its intended purpose – to personalize and enhance the shopping experience. But customers also want to know that their data will stay safe. Cybersecurity will be key to the success of data collection strategies, in order to not compromise customers’ trust.
The year ahead will be exciting, as retailers zero in on the customer and experiment with the myriad ways to ensure the shopping experience becomes increasingly customer-focused. To today’s shoppers, the saying ‘caveat emptor’ hearkens back to a very different, long-gone era – a time when retailers were protected by an implied contract requiring due diligence on the part of the shopper. Retailers might now want to keep in mind an updated version of the saying – ‘caveat venditor’ – let the seller beware. Retailers need to ensure the shopping experience is tailored to the needs and wants of individual shoppers, and use technology in ways that respect and optimize that relationship. If not, customers will take their business elsewhere.